Birmingham pub bombings inquest begins amid tributes to victims

Family members spoke of how their loved ones died in ‘the carnage of that night’

Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the Birmingham Bombing, poses for the media beside supporters carrying placards in St. Philip’s Cathedral Square before arriving at Birmingham Civil Justice centre on the first day of the inquest into the Birmingham Bombings on Monday. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty

Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the Birmingham Bombing, poses for the media beside supporters carrying placards in St. Philip’s Cathedral Square before arriving at Birmingham Civil Justice centre on the first day of the inquest into the Birmingham Bombings on Monday. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty

 

Bereaved relatives of the victims of the IRA pub bombings in Birmingham have paid emotional tribute to their loved ones at long-awaited inquests into their deaths.

Hearings into the deaths of 21 people in the 1974 attacks got under way this week after a 44-year wait for the families.

Coroner Sir Peter Thornton told jurors they would hear how the two bombs ripped apart two pubs on what was a “perfectly ordinary evening” on November 21st.

The blasts, detonating in “massive explosions” just minutes apart inside the Mulberry Bush and the Tavern in the Town, brought “devastation”, jurors heard.

Family members spoke of how victims, from all walks of life, died in “the carnage of that night”.

File photo dated November 11th, 1974 of the outside of the Mulberry Bush public house and surrounding buildings the day after the bombings. Photograph: PA Wire
File photo dated November 11th, 1974 of the outside of the Mulberry Bush public house and surrounding buildings the day after the bombings. Photograph: PA Wire

Victims

On Tuesday, the first 16 pen portraits of the victims were read by relatives during emotional scenes in court.

Brian Hambleton’s sister, 18-year-old Maxine Hambleton, was killed in the Tavern in the Town.

He spoke of giving her a lift into the city that night and of since feeling he had “literally driven my sister to her death”.

Her youngest sister, Julie Hambleton, said: “She would have been the first in our family to go to university, but the sad thing was she died without ever knowing that she had won a place.

“To remember her is not an easy thing to do because any memories we have quite simply ignite the heart-rending agony of not having this beautiful soul in our lives.”

Lynn Bennett, a punchcard operator, was “very petite and looked great in miniskirts and platforms”, her sister Claire Luckman said.

“Her passion was Birmingham City Football Club” but, after the bombings, her father “never stepped foot in the ground again, such was the pain of losing Lynn”.

Mrs Luckman added that her sister met Stephen Whalley that night after making contact through the NME’s lonely hearts pages.

She added: “They both lost their lives that night.”

A family handout file photo of Maxine Hambleton (18) who died in the Birmingham pub bombings. Photograph: Family Handout/PA Wire
A family handout file photo of Maxine Hambleton (18) who died in the Birmingham pub bombings. Photograph: Family Handout/PA Wire

‘Too traumatic’

Jurors heard Mr Whalley’s elderly mother was too frail to attend and her statement was read by Mrs Hambleton.

She said: “While I would love the world to know about my son Stephen, and the lovely young man he was, it is just too difficult and painful for me to recall any memories I have because it is too traumatic to remember.

“Stephen was our only child, who had his whole life ahead of him.”

James Craig, known as Jimmy, was a motor factory worker whose family was originally from Northern Ireland.

Timeline

Birmingham bombings – event, reaction and aftermath VIEW NOW

“His only interest was playing football,” his brother Bill Craig said.

A triallist for Birmingham City in the 1960s, he could neither read nor write.

His brother said: “He was the last one to die as a result of the pub bombings.”

Friends Michael Beasley, James Caddick, Stan Bodman, Trevor Thrupp, John Clifford Jones and John Rowlands were stood at their usual spot in the Mulberry Bush when they died.

Mr Beasley, known as Mick, was a regular at the pub on the ground floor of the famous Rotunda.

A memorial to the victims of the Birmingham Bombing is seen in St Philip’s Cathedral square in Birmingham, England. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty
A memorial to the victims of the Birmingham Bombing is seen in St Philip’s Cathedral square in Birmingham, England. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/Getty

The 30-year-old stock controller was a film enthusiast.

Peter Skelton QC, for the coroner, read Mr Beasley’s tribute, including an account from one of the last to see him alive.

He said: “In the Mulberry Bush, Michael spoke to Mary Jones, the wife of the licensee.

“He told her he’d found a lucky Cornish pixie charm on the bus on the way to town that night and gave the charm to her.

“Mary kept the charm and always carried it with her following that evening.”

The youngest victim was Neil Marsh (16) who had come from Jamaica to be with his mother.

His cousin, Danielle Fairweather-Tipping, said Mr Marsh, known as Tommy, “died as a child”, nine days before his 17th birthday.

She added: “His death has been a devastation to our family and words really can never explain this.”

Neil’s friend, 17-year-old Paul Davies, was with him when they were caught in the Mulberry Bush blast.

His daughter Michelle Sealey and son Paul Bridgewater paid tribute to their reggae-loving father who would “never be forgotten”.

Ms Sealey said her father had “loved martial arts and Bruce Lee”.

She added: “I would daydream about him being around and what kind of relationship we would have had.”

Veterans

Father-of-two Mr Rowlands, who served in the Second World War with the Fleet Air Arm, was an electrician in peacetime and a “bit of a card and a joker”, his son Paul said.

He added: “On night of his death, he died with his friends as they stood around the bar.

“If he had lived, I know my life would have been very different from what it was.”

Mr Thrupp, a 33-year-old father and a railway guard, had an “infectious” laugh and was the “life and soul of the party”, his son Paul told jurors.

He said his two sisters, Diane and Dawn, were asleep in bed “when the terrible truth unfolded”.

Mr Bodman was a “larger-than-life” character, a father-of-three, and an electrician who had served with the RAF in wartime, his son Paul said.

He added: “The carnage that night will never be forgotten and as a family we hope the inquest will finally bring some answers.”

Mr Caddick (56) and also a father-of-three, was a porter at the nearby Birmingham markets.

Mr Skelton said he was in the Mulberry Bush “in the company of friends” when the bomb went off.

Family handout file photo of Clifford Jones, of Handsworth, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings. Photograph: Family handout/PA Wire
Family handout file photo of Clifford Jones, of Handsworth, who died in the Birmingham pub bombings. Photograph: Family handout/PA Wire

Mr Jones, known as Cliff, was “modest and unassuming” and a post office worker, who worked moving mail off trains at New Street station.

He had been gravely wounded by machine gun fire in Belgium in 1945, but survived those wounds only to be taken “in a cruel and barbaric way” in 1974, his son George said.

The 51-year-old was known for “putting himself forward” with bravery, and in early 1974 had dragged a passenger clear of the rail tracks.

He went to the pub to “catch up with a group of six friends who were regulars”.

His son said: “They always stood in the same position at the end of the bar, next to the serving hatch, having a drink and enjoying each other’s company, as they normally did.

“Little did they know that they were standing just feet from a bomb that killed all of the group along with other innocents, leaving many badly injured and traumatised.”

The inquests continue. – PA